Costco recently removed a popular pimento cheese brand from 120 of its stores after the owner called the Black Lives Matter movement a "terror organization" on his public Facebook.
In reaction to the murder of two local residents, Brian Henry, founder of Palmetto Cheese and mayor of Pawleys Island, South Carolina, took to Facebook on Aug. 25 with a message many residents considered to be racist in nature. Although the post has since been deleted, screenshots circulated social media calling on customers to #BoycottPalmetto.
"I am sickened by the senseless killings in Georgetown last night. 2 [sic] innocent people murdered. Not 2 thugs or people wanted on multiple warrants. 2 white people defenselessly gunned down by a black man," Henry wrote. "So why do we stand by and allow BLM to lawlessly destroy great American cities and threaten their citizens on a daily basis ... this has gone on too long. Rise up America. This BLM and Antifa movement must be treated like the terror organizations they are."
According to the Georgetown County Sheriff's Office, the man Henry spoke of, 23-year-old Ty Sheem Ha Sheem Walters III, was arrested on Aug. 24 for shooting three people and killing two — 21-year-old Laura Anderson and her step-father, Nick Wall — during an altercation following a car accident that day in Georgetown, South Carolina.
Following Henry's statement against Black Lives Matter, Costco removed the product from 120 of its stores. A corporate spokesperson declined to comment to TODAY. However, the Post and Courier, which broke the story, obtained a photo of a sign from Costco in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina that specified the cheese was "discontinued" and would "not be re-ordered." Henry also confirmed to the Post and Courier that his product was in the process of being removed from shelves.
"Over 120 Costco's [sic] throughout the US are no longer carrying this item," the sign read.
Many have spoken out in support of Black Lives Matter on social media and asked others to #BoycottPalmetto at their local grocery stores. The Georgetown, South Carolina NAACP branch president Marvin Neal called for Henry's resignation as mayor.
"When two White people were allegedly killed by a Black man in Georgetown, SC, Mayor Brian Henry of the neighboring town of Pawley’s Island Beach had the opportunity to bring citizens closer together. He instead chose to use his platform to cause further racial divide and controversy by venting his frustrations on social media," Neal told TODAY Food.
Henry was unreachable for comment Tuesday, but on Sept. 3, the mayor issued an apology for the Facebook post at a press conference at the Pawleys Island Sea View Inn, which Henry and his wife, Sassy, own and operate. He did not address the NAACP's call for his mayoral resignation, but did ask that people consider the hundreds of South Carolina workers Palmetto employs before boycotting the brand.
“I am profoundly sorry to those I offended with my post last week. My comments were hurtful and insensitive,” Henry said at the conference in a prepared statement. "I spent that past 10 days listening and learning. The conversations I’ve had with friends, our staff, the community and faith-based leaders provided me with a deeper understanding of racial inequality and the importance of diversity sensitivity, which is very much needed to heal Pawleys Island, Georgetown and our country."
On his company's website, Henry announced an endowment called Grace and Grits, in which his family and Palmetto Cheese will donate $100,000 in the first year. It will provide funds for scholarship programs, assist local food banks and other enrichment programs. From the website, it is unclear whether the endowment existed prior to the recent backlash or was created in response to it. The company will also onboard a Diversity and Community Liaison to manage the endowment.
In addition, Palmetto announced it will change the graphics on its label, which has featured a photo of Vertrella Brown, the Sea View Inn's cook of 40 years who helped popularize Sassy's pimento cheese recipe, since the commercial launch in 2006. According to the Palmetto Cheese website, Brown specialized in Gullah and low country cuisine and passed away in April of this year. The brand did not specifically state why the Henrys decided to remove the image of Brown, but critics have accused the company of exploiting an image of a Black woman for profit.
Some folks, like Neal, don't think an endowment or diversity liaison is enough to remedy the damage he did with his inflammatory post.
"Mayor Henry used the power and privilege afforded to his office to further his personal agenda and spread hateful, racist rhetoric with the potential of inciting violence," Neal told TODAY. "These situations must be taken seriously. Racism cannot and will not be tolerated by the citizens of Pawley’s Island Beach and Georgetown County, SC. Mayor Henry’s actions reflected negatively upon himself and the community in which he serves."